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Cobras Reel In Another Win

The Cobras made the short trip to Clifton College to face off against the Bristol Barracuda this Sunday, in a fixture which promised to be a battle of two high flying teams. The Cuda came in having put up 113 points in two fixtures against Bath Spa and new boys FXU Tridents whilst not allowing a single point at the other end of the field. Cardiff arrived with the same record, but after much different encounters. Facing the toughest start of any team in the SWAC, Cardiff possessed confidence after knocking off the highly touted Exeter Demons and the number 1 ranked UWE Bullets in their first two games. With the Cobras presenting the first real test the Cuda had faced, the matchup had the potential to be a nail biter that could hinge on one or two crucial plays.


The game began with Cardiff getting their first look at the much talked about offseason acquisition for the Barracuda: Wisconsin QB Clay Rust. After a quick first down for Cuda, the Cardiff D forced a punt and began a see-saw affair to start the game, as both teams grappled early for a foothold. The first significant play came towards the end of the first quarter when Cuda managed to capitalise on excellent starting field position. Rust dropped back in the pocket, had time and saw his compatriot Alex DeCaro downfield behind the defense. He launched a bomb and found his receiver for the first score of the game after a busted coverage from the Cobras secondary. The extra point was converted and the Cobras found themselves in a situation common to all of their opening fixtures - down by a score in the first quarter.


The Cobras D works hard to stop Bristol. Tackle by Ed Woolcott. (c) TallBoy Images

The Cardiff offense found their groove after the score and began to move the ball efficiently. QB Rich Gardner orchestrated the offense by taking what the Bristol defense gave up. Short passes were completed regularly to Stefan Pollitt and Dan Reeves, who both picked up significant yards after the catch helping the Cardiff cause. Rookie Wide Receiver Will Peake picked up 20 yards to close out the first quarter with an excellent catch in traffic for a Cobras first down and his first grab in the red and black.

Heading into the 2nd quarter, Cardiff were driving in Bristol territory. The rotational trio of Billy Rowlands, Rhys Romo and Ayo Akintunde in the backfield shouldered a lot of work as they picked up the gritty yards on the ground which continued Cardiff’s drive. With the Cobras knocking at the door on the 1 yard line, Akintunde ran to the right end. Right Tackle Jack Saffer sealed the edge and created a perfect running lane to the outside and a clear path to the endzone. Touchdown Cobras with the extra point to follow. Unfortunately, it was wide left and the score remained 7-6.

Rust and Co. continued to challenge the Cobras defense on the other side of the ball. Some excellent plays from the defensive line of Jonathan Thomas, Rory Beswick, Will Harris and Harry Kirkham neutralised the threat of Cuda on the ground and forced Rust to go to the air to beat the Cobras defense. He obliged. On 3rd and 12, Rust found DeCaro, yet again, on a corner route behind the Cobras defense and he took the ball the rest of the way to the house. With the score at 14-6 heading towards halftime, the Cobras looked to march down the field, using much the same formula that had brought them success on their previous drive. Will Peake found himself behind the Cuda defense, hauled in the catch from Gardner but couldn’t keep his balance, preventing what would have been a certain touchdown. The catch did place Cardiff in the redzone for the second drive in a row. Inside of 2 minutes to play, they tried to breach the Cuda line but were denied on consecutive attempts. With 5 seconds remaining, Gardner dropped back and looked for Pollitt in the right hand corner of the endzone, but the Cuda defense held firm and intercepted the ball to keep the score at 14-6 heading into halftime.

Will Harris and Harry Kirkham combine to sack Clay Rust. (c) TallBoy Images

After a well deserved dressing down at halftime from Head Coach Ben Watkins and some of the veteran presences on the squad, it was time for Cardiff to show up and dominate the second half like they had done in their previous encounters. It couldn’t have started any better. With the opening kickoff of the second half, Akintunde picked up some outstanding blocks from the return team and he repaid them by exploding through the hole created. Poor lane discipline from the Barracuda left Akintunde one on one with the kicker, and there was only one winner. He glided past the kicker and left him chasing shadows as number 1 streaked down the Cuda sideline and into the endzone for his second score of the game. It was left to Akintunde as well to punch the ball into the endzone on the two point conversion after picking up a great block from Left Tackle Ben Mason. Before the Bristol Jets Cheerleaders had even returned for the second half, the game was all tied up at 14 apiece.


Ayo Akintunde slips the last tackler on his way to an 85yd kick return. (c) TallBoy Images

The Cobras defense was becoming accustomed to the threat posed by the Cuda aerial attack. Learning from earlier mistakes, the secondary played further back from their opposing players, kept everything in front of them and played downhill against any threats. The defense as a whole stepped up, sensing that the offense and special teams were keeping the Cobras within touching distance of 3-0. They would go on to shut down the Cuda offense throughout the entire third quarter. Solid fundamentals and a refusal to be beaten led to a noticeable improvement throughout all 3 units of the defence. Linebackers Shaun Rees and Jason Roberts set both edges with solid open field tackles.

The game had become a war of attrition; balanced on a knife edge with both teams recognising the significance of the situation. Whoever was to gain the momentum at this stage would more than likely hold onto it until it was too late for the other team to counter.

Heading into the 4th quarter Cardiff found themselves with the football, driving down the field once again. Inside the Bristol 5 yard line, Cuda remained stout against the run up the middle from the running backs, and something different was needed. Rich Gardner pulled out the oldest play in the book with the QB Sneak. Following a strong push behind the interior line of Alex Frost, Alex Dunkley and Alex Roberts, he extended the ball across the plane for a Cobra touchdown. The extra point attempt was scrambled perfectly into the endzone by holder Robin Ford after a slightly high snap, giving Cardiff a 22-14 lead.

The defense knew it had to keep doing what it was doing to keep the game safe. However, it was on the next drive that it raised the bar once again. On a read option play, Rust handed the ball to his running back who was greeted with the good news in the backfield by blitzing Middle Linebacker Toby Lock. Lock grabbed hold of the ball, stripped it away from the Cuda running back and found nobody wearing maroon between himself and the endzone. The scoot to pay dirt was all that remained and in the space of 1 minute, the game had gone from being tied at 14 to Cardiff owning a 14 point lead themselves. Cobras 28-14 Cuda.

Much of the 4th quarter was dominated by the Cobras defense being on the field as the Barracuda tried to mount a comeback. Cardiff were looking to play deep and not give up the big plays. With Rust driving his offense down the field and threatening the Cardiff defense inside the 20, he tried forcing a bullet into tight coverage where Strong Safety Robin Ford was lurking to pick the ball off and keep the Cobras lead intact.

Robin Ford with a pick to stop another aerial threat from the Barracuda. (c) TallBoy Images

Each time the Cobras got the ball, the run was on the cards to drain the game clock. The Bristol defense knew this as well and forced a punt which gave them the ball back at midfield. The Cobras defense stepped up again and forced a 4th down situation for Bristol. Sensing they may not get many more chances, Rust dropped back and evaded several Cobras on the pass rush, giving himself what seemed like an eternity and he launched the ball to the back of the endzone. DeCaro appeared to be open, but Free Safety Ed Woolcott broke the ball up and the receiver was levelled by Shaun Rees for good measure.

The Barracuda did eventually break through the Cobras defense. On the next drive Rust put the ball on the Cobras one yard line and found who else but DeCaro for the score with 1:55 left to play. With the score at 21-28, the Cuda attempted an onside kick to try and recover possession. Luckily for the Cobras, WR Ollie Rees was there with the crucial recovery to give Cardiff a chance to seal the deal.

With the game on the line, the offensive line dominated their men up front. Holes developed for workhorse back Akintunde and Bristol could do nothing to stop the run, despite the fact they knew it was coming. Rhys Romo laid a crushing hit on a linebacker to free up Akintunde to pick up the first down to allow Cardiff to kneel the ball out and advance to 3-0, following their 3rd come-from-behind victory.

The Cobras next face the long journey down to Plymouth in an attempt to keep their win streak alive. Having only played one fixture so far, Plymouth are something of an unknown quantity. Cardiff must be sure to have their minds right to face a Blitz team that can beat anyone on their given day.



Overall - MLB Toby Lock
Offense - RB Ayo Akintunde
Defense - SS Robin Ford
Offensive Rookie - WR Will Peake
Defensive Rookie - DE Jonathan Thomas

All images (c) TallBoy Images. More images from this match are available here.




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